A poem for Sunday
My name means earth. Means first.
It is the smallest unit of matter, a building block,
held together by almost unbreakable forces.
It means that a man and woman, one Irish,
one Italian, both Catholic, met at a priest’s house
in Charlottesville—means my mother liked
the name because it couldn’t be undone
by a nickname and my father loved my mother.
It means a yellow house with a double driveway
and tulips that swelled like lumps in the throat.
I arrived in the late ’70s, when the name’s
popularity was cresting like a wave. It means
jean jackets, Pac-Man, and Ronald Reagan.
Like the former president’s, my name’s a trochee,
just like apple and poet. Adam, of course,
was a poet, naming the animals. It begins
with a strong syllable and contains a potential
fissure, a fission, that sometimes frightens me.
As a child, I avoided introducing myself so
I wouldn’t stutter. It means the taste of my own sweat
and staring at my mouth in the bedroom mirror.
To the bullies, it rhymed with dumb.
I wondered if I was the only one. My name is blue.
My name is Monday. I am not known from Adam.
Once when I got stuck on my name at the coffee shop,
the barista, Sharpie in hand, asked, Why don’t
I just call you Bob? And I have thought about going
by other names. One night at a bar I danced and
chatted under Owen, a soft name, all breath,
like an open window. But if I changed my name,
I’d eventually end up stuttering on the new one,
so I always come back to Adam.
Adam Smith, Adam Mickiewicz, Adam Sandler—
even if you have my name, you probably
don’t say it like I do, especially you, Sandler,
in your baseball cap, who owe an apology to Junior.
I say it slowly and deliberately, like a curtain opening.
Each atom has a unique number of protons,
or atomic number, distinguishing it as an element
on the periodic table. No one else in my family
has my name, and no one else stutters.
No one else has this eardrum, these orbiting
electrons, this shade of ocean. Each morning,
sunlight presses against the blinds like a hand
to glass, and, rising, I bring new expression
to the phrase Up and at ’em. My name means first.